Supplement expiration dates can cause a whole lot of worry and distress. When your vitamins expire, do you immediately throw out the bottle, take the supplements for a few more days or even a few more months, or ignore the date altogether?
Then there’s the cost factor. If you haven’t used up the entire bottle, do you feel like you’re wasting money by throwing out your unused, expired supplements—even though they still look good to you?
Uncovering the Mystery of Expiration Dates
First, let’s start by explaining what the expiration date actually is.
The expiration date is the last day an item will be at its highest level of potentcy. This means that the manufacturer can successfully guarantee the quality of a product up until the expiration date. A quality manufacturer will ensure that their vitamins are at the listed strength on the label at the time of expiration. If the manufacturer does not list an expiration date, then they are liable for the listed strength for the entire time the product is in circulation.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require supplements to have expiration dates. However, quality manufacturers voluntarily list expiration dates because it is to their benefit. They test their vitamins rigorously to make sure they can successfully guarantee the label strength up until the expiration date.
So ultimately, just because a product reaches it's expiration date, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer any good; it only means that label strength may be lost over time.
Expiration dates are extremely conservative. All vitamins start to break down the day they are manufactured. Vitamins deteriorate at different rates, so manufacturers will beef up the strength of some vitamins that tend to deteriorate faster, in order to hit the listed strength at the time of expiration.
If you were to purchase vitamins on the day they’re manufactured, in some cases you’re actually getting a higher strength than what’s listed on the label (to allow for deterioration over time). Many expiration dates are also padded to factor in such things as shelf time and shipping time.
Vitamin manufacturers expect that their vitamins will spend some time traveling to their warehouse destination, then spend some time on stores shelves, before arriving in the customer’s hands. Vitamin strength and expiration dates are carefully coordinated to guarantee the listed label strength up until the day of expiration.
Tips for Storing Your Vitamins
The way you store your vitamins has a significant impact on how long your vitamins will retain their potency. Vitamins can lose their strength before their expiration date if they’re stored improperly.
Refrigeration is not always best. Contrary to common perception, it’s not a good idea to store vitamins in your refrigerator (unless the bottle specifically instructs refrigeration). The logic for this is that every time you open a cold bottle to get your vitamin, you’re allowing condensation inside the bottle that can lead to vitamin deterioration.
If you prefer storing your vitamins in your refrigerator, then stash them in refrigeration for long-term use. You can store vitamins in bulk in your refrigerator, take out a one-month supply to store in your cabinet, and then close the refrigerated container until next month. This will minimize the number of times you’re opening the vitamin container and allowing condensation. Overall, it’s a much better idea to store your vitamins in a cool, dry, dark place. They will last significantly longer.
Keep vitamins in their original containers. Some vitamins come in dark glass bottles or opaque containers. They are packaged this way to minimize vitamin breakdown due to light. Some people like to transfer their vitamins from a dark bottle to a clear baggie or some other clear storage container for easy access. Generally, if a bottle is designed to reduce light exposure, then it’s better to take these vitamins directly from their original container in order to minimize their deterioration.
Keep vitamins away from humidity and heat. Commonly, there’s a tendency to store vitamins in either the bathroom or the kitchen for easy access. These are actually not ideal locations because these rooms have higher humidity and heat levels than other rooms in the house. A bedroom drawer or linen closet would be a better location to preserve vitamin strength.
Beyond the Expiration Date
Stored properly, vitamins can last four or five years, although the conservative recommendation is that they can easily last two years. Taking vitamins beyond their expiration date is generally safe. The only difference is that you may lose potency over time, so taking extremely old vitamins may not give you the desired results that you’re trying to achieve. But in case you have doubts, some vitamins have been known to last 10 years or longer without losing their label strength.
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